Writing Tip — Favorite Stories: From the Lake to the River

Anthology Meme 1With the release of From the Lake to the River: Buckeye Christian Fiction Authors 2018 Anthology, containing my very first short story, just two days away,  here are the blurbs for a few more of the stories. If you missed the first set of blurbs, including mine, check out this post from the start of the month.

“Evie’s Letter” by Cindy Thomson

A group of ladies in Cardington, Ohio, are answering letters to Santa. One letter from the daughter of a Confederate soldier asks for something more difficult than giving toys and candy. The women must decide if they can put aside their sorrow for the sake of a child.

“Christmas Angels” by Carole Brown

Her mother called her a failure, and maybe she was. Her husband was gone—in the service, yes, but if he loved her—really loved her, why didn’t he write? Or call? Or send the money she needed?

She was scared too, afraid of being alone, and though she loved this sweet little bundle of joy—her baby—well, was she smart enough and strong enough to raise her? She didn’t mind doing without all the nice things she’d love to have, but not being able to provide luxuries like Christmas trees, ornaments and presents for her baby girl was beyond enduring.

What she needed was a miracle…and that wasn’t going to happen.

“Cold Read” by Sharyn Kopf

When Stephie Graham volunteered to direct The Rainmaker at the historic Holland Theatre in Bellefontaine, Ohio, she might not have thought it all through. Like how hard it can be to find six male cast members for a small community production. But then Andy Tremont moseys into the audition—and into her heart.

At first, everything seems to be coming together just fine … until it starts to fall apart. First, the female lead breaks her foot. Then Stephie learns there are talks of selling the Holland to developers. And, in case things weren’t difficult enough, the theatre might have a ghost named Juniper who’s trying to keep Stephie and Andy from getting together. There was, in fact, a Juniper who took the Holland stage in 1933 and sang about her broken heart, certain she had lost her chance at love.

But maybe God has a plan for both women that is beyond what either could ever imagine.

“Fred’s Gift” by Bettie Boswell

Widowed mother Dawn is filled with regrets concerning her aging father. Is it too late to make up for lost time? Or, will she find peace and perhaps a new love as her father’s final journey is revealed?

You can pre-order this book at the following sites: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. On Saturday, when the book releases, I’ll have more information on how to buy it.

Writing Tip: Creating Names for Short Story Characters

avatarw1-2191918_1280Because of a short story’s limited word count, creating names for short story characters is more important than just hanging an identifying label on them.

In my short story, “Debt to Pay”, I have a male character in his twenties who is weak, easily manipulated. A soft sounding name helps convey those flaws. Since my story is set in the present, I also needed a name that someone born in the ’90’s would be likely to have. “Asa” might sound weak, but it certainly would seem out of place attached to a contemporary character. I chose Ryan Conley. R’s and n’s have a soft sound, and the y on the end sound like a diminutive, like in Tommy or Annie. C is a strong consonant, so maybe I should have gone with Hanley or Finley, but I think Conley”gets the job done.

My only female characters is new to wealthy and in her 30’s. I wanted her to sound nouveau riche, and names like Victoria and Rebecca sound too old money. I went with Natalie. It’s suitable for someone born in 1980’s, but still sounds modern, like Madison or Harper, rather than timeless, like Sarah or Alice.

My main character, sixteen-year-old Jay, meets these two characters for the first time in the story. He nicknames them “Mr. Smooth” and “Fashion Model.” His nicknames tell the reader not only how the characters look, but also how Jay thinks of them. For more on using nicknames in your writing, see my post “Lesson #1 from The Deer on a Bicycle.

I also have a character who is a millionaire and a member of family that’s been wealthy for generations. So the last name had to sound as impressive but not imposing. So I ignored last names like Arlington or King or Powers. I chose Everett. It sounds like a name that could have come over on the Mayflower. I picked Adam for the first name because I wanted something traditional, which would fit a conservative, wealthy American dynasty, but something more distinct than James or Charles or Richard.

How do you name your characters? Do you have to like a name? How do you find ones that suit your characters?

 

 

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: I Go to the River

bachw-3385934_1280This poem came to me when I waded the river near my home to relieve stress. Since my kids did fishing for their 4-H projects this summer, I have spent a lot of time out on the river and always feel better when I get away from all the demands of life — homework, housework, deadlines, whatever. At the river, I can’t do more than be there. And I love that.

Where do you go when you need to relieve stress?

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger Bettie Boswell

39760465_2130678013617363_178544449079476224_nOne of the authors in From the Lake to the River has stopped by to talk about her short story “Fred’s Gift” and her writing journey. Please welcome, Bettie Boswell!

You said your father inspired your story. What parts of the character Fred are like your father and what parts aren’t?

Bettie: My father was known for writing letters to his children that could be rather blunt. In his elder years he softened up and became a gentler voice to his family. He also surprised everyone by becoming involved in all the activities at his assisted living, including the Church ones. Several years before he entered assisted living, he did deed his home place to me and a sibling. Since he passed, I use it as a retreat to write music and stories. My brother uses it as a place to hunt deer, while I use it to hunt the right words.

Why did you choose Toledo and central Ohio as the setting?

Bettie: Northwest Ohio—I chose that area because it is where I live. Also there are areas nearby that would fit both the rural and suburban settings of the story. Though my father’s land is in another state, the Ohio farmlands are similar in setting.

You’re both an author and composer. What are the similarities between these two arts? What are the differences?

Bettie: The music I write generally has words, so choosing the right word with the right meaning is an important part in both. Most of the time the words to a song come first. Music uses poetry and which eliminates extra words that aren’t needed to convey a thought. Rhyming and rhythm come easy and–though not obvious in prose–many times they play a part in putting words into a sentence.

Writing isn’t restricted to a set meter so there is more freedom in expression. Terminology means different things in each place. Beat in music keeps the pulse going. Beat in a story refers to an action used instead of a tag like ‘he said.’ Mood in music may be expressed by tempo, dynamics, style, or by using a minor or major key. Mood in writing is composed of specific words, short or long sentences, actions or phrases conveying emotions. I think I could write a major essay on the comparison so I will stop for now.

If you do a major essay, let me know! I would love to feature it. Next question — What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration?

Bettie: I am inspired by family history and historic research. My father researched his genealogy and retold many of the family tales, which may find their way into a story someday. Many of the musicals I’ve written are based on Ohio history. Some of my children’s manuscripts are inspired by events experienced by my children and grandchildren. I’m working on one now about a Pig Alert that really happened to us when my boys were little. We saw some pigs fly…sort of…

What advice would you give to beginning writers?

Bettie: Learn the craft. Take classes to improve yourself. I’m taking a great on-line one right now from author Tina Radcliffe. Attend critique groups and conferences. (Learn to know which critiques are valid and which are not. Not everyone knows how to write your story, but you can learn from others who will see things you can’t.) I belong to several critique and writing groups. From the Lake to the River was developed through such a group.

Conferences are for more than learning. They give you the chance to share with editors and agents–but learn what to say to them before you go there. I left my first one in tears. I would suggest just going to workshops the first time you attend a conference. Listen to those who actually go to a meeting and learn from their mistakes. Sign up for a mentor meeting instead of an agent or editor. After that, pay the extra fees and meet up with several editors or agents. Those meetings may be the only way to get anyone to look at your manuscript.

Don’t pout too long when you get a rejection. Get over yourself, learn from it and challenge yourself to conquer the next hurdle in your writing career. Rejecting editors opinions are just that, an opinion. If they do make a suggestion give it major consideration and make changes.

I also became interested in children’s books and attended workshops at the Highlights Foundation.  (They have scholarships if the price scares you.) Though their aim is children to young adult books, I learned a lot there that improved my ability to write for any age group. Keep plugging away. Put yourself in front of your computer and start typing. (By the way, writing will cost you much learning time and money until you become a very famous writer. Think of it as an investment in a new career training academy or college.)

Enter contests. An early draft of “Fred’s Gift” placed third in a state ACFW contest a few years ago. AFCW has a contest every year for beginners. I’ve entered it twice and the critiques are worth the entry fee.

Today you have to be involved in social media and have a ‘platform.’ That was a tough one for me but I’ve become part of the Twitter (@Bboswellb) and Facebook world. They tell me now that Instagram is the way to go so I guess one of these days I’ll break that barrier–probably about the time they start a new venue. I submitted one children’s story to a small publisher and they said I had to have a social media presence to be considered by their house. That’s when I decided to jump into that world.

There are many great on-line communities that support writer’s. My favorite for many years has been Seekerville. They have an archive of amazing articles on writing for the Christian market. ACFW(Christian fiction) and SCBWI (Children’s) both have a wealth of information (pod casts, online classes, other resources) available on their websites if you are a member. You can start your education and have a couple of society initials to put after your name on your resume when you join them.

I just started a web site! I’m a rookie but you have to start somewhere!

*****

Bettie Boswell is an author, illustrator, and composer for both Christian and children’s markets. She holds a B.S. in Church Music from Cincinnati Bible College and a Masters in Elementary Education from East Tennessee State University. She lives in Northwest Ohio. Her numerous musicals have been performed at schools, churches, and two community theater events. When she isn’t writing, drawing or composing, she keeps busy with her day job teaching elementary music .

Writing Tip — Immerse Your Readers in Deep POV

swimmingw1-2616746_1280The one piece of writing advice I have run into more than any other is “show, don’t tell”. It wasn’t until I read two books on the subject, Understanding Show Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy and Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson, that I understood that when you immerse your readers in deep POV, you guard against telling and are more likely to show.

I put this into practice for the first time last January when I wrote the rough draft of my short story, “Debt to Pay”, which will appear in the anthology From the Lake to the River. To achieve deep POV, I had to imagine my entire story through the senses of my first person narrator, sixteen-year-old Jay. It was as if my rural setting in Wayne National Forest was a world in Minecraft, and Jay was my avatar.

What amazed me was how thoroughly I experienced Jay’s environment through this technique. I saw the world through his eyes, heard it through his ears. When I finished writing the action sequence at the climax, I was breathing hard, and my heart was racing. Deep POV made my imagination come alive and I hope I have transferred the vividness into words.

The disadvantage with deep POV is that it can confuse your readers. I discovered that when I asked relatives and friends to read my rough draft. In general, they thought the story made sense, but they became confused during the action at the end. I had captured the chaos Jay experiences so well that my readers found it chaotic, too. As fellow writers Cindy Thomson and Michelle Levigne told me, sometimes a writer needs to insert tiny tells to help the reader. Your reader shouldn’t work hard to follow your story. I know when I have to deeply concentrate to figure out a plot, I may just give up.

So I returned to my rough draft and inserted tells to help the readers follow the action. But I had to make the tells seems natural for Jay to think since I was still using deep POV.

How do you get into the mind of your POV characters?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompt: A Scene for Country Noir

walkersw-486583_1280.jpgWhen I found this photo, I knew it would be the perfect prompt for a scene for country noir.

Who is this character? Is he walking away from a heinous crime he’s committed? Is he about to commit a heinous crime? Maybe he’s trying to prevent a heinous crime. In all that fog, at least one heinous crime should be hiding in there.

Here’s how I would start the scene:

“Hunching my shoulders, I walked slowly, listening. If I could hear them before they saw me, I had a chance. I could also turn around and run. I stopped, my ears straining. Fight or flight? Which gave me the best chance at survival? I started waking. Neither one, as far as I could tell. Might as well face them and get it over with. One way or the other.”

How would you use this photo as a scene for country noir?

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Writing Tip — How Technology Ruins Suspense in Writing

laptopw1-3087585_1280When I mentioned to my brother-in-law, an ardent sf and fantasy fan, that I was looking for a new kind of mystery, he recommended two books from the 1950’s, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov. These mysteries, set in the distant future, feature human police detective Elijah Bailey and his robot humanoid partner R. Daneel Olivaw.

I like The Naked Sun better than The Caves of Steel but I almost put it down because of how technology ruins suspense. Bailey is asked to investigate, with the help of Daneel,  a murder on a distant planet settled by humans. Because Daneel is a robot, and this is an Isaac Asimov novel, Daneel is programmed with The Three Laws of Robotics. This means Bailey’s safety is Daneel’s first priority. It also means that in the first part of the book, when anything exciting, or even mildly interesting, is about to happen, Daneel’s programming kicks in and prevents Bailey from taking any action that’s even slightly risky.

The fun thing is that Asimov has Bailey realize his partner’s protection is hampering his investigation. He trick Daneel into inactivity, and then the plot gets more exciting when  Bailey is almost killed.

Smartphones are reality’s equivalents of Asimov’s robots:

  • Main character gets lost in a dangerous section of city. GPS to the rescue!
  • Main character meets mysterious stranger. Does online search for stranger. Mysterious no more!
  • Main character notices someone following her. Calls cops while walking!

In the book reviews I read, I find a lot of novels are set in the recent past — 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Maybe that’s because authors know how technology ruins suspense. At a presentation, author Karen Harper, who writes contemporary suspense, mentioned how she had to keep inventing ways to get rid of smartphones to place her characters in danger.

That’s one reason why I like country noir. Many rural places in our country still have no reception. While driving through West Virginia, on a major highway, my oldest lost connection with my niece because the mountains loomed so high above us. A few days ago, I met my cousin and her family at a state park. As the kids went creeking, I glanced at my phone. No bars. A perfect place for a bad guy to lure a good guy.

In my short story, “Debt to Pay” in From the Lake to the River, the teenage main character and his brother live in a small house in Wayne National Forest with no cell reception. This inconvenience is a key ingredient in my plot. I also had to think of a realistic reason for a character to have lost a phone. I don’t want to tell the reason because I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but when I had other people read my rough drafts, no one said it was unbelievable.

What do you think? Have you read a mystery or thriller set in the present that convincingly works around smartphones?

Writing Tip — What is Country Noir?

roadw-1576538_1280

According to an article on Wikipedia about author Daniel Woodrell, “country noir” is a phrase he invented to characterize his crime fiction set in rural Missouri.

After doing some online research, I have discovered country noir goes by several names like “rural noir” and “southern noir”. Besides Mr. Woodrell’s novels, another example is the series Justified. The themes of poverty and violence described in the nonfiction book Hillbilly Elegy are common in country noir. Many country songs, like “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”, would qualify.

Opinions differ over what should be included in country noir, but I think stories should echo themes originating in film noir, the classification that started all the noir subgenres. That’s why I categorize my short story which will published in September as country noir.

Classic Film Noir

In Film Noir, eds. Paul Duncan and Jurgen Muller, the classic period for film noir is listed as 1940-1960, but other experts say it ends in 1958 or 1959. Along with a distinct visual style which often included  low-key lighting and deep shadows, classic film noir contained at least one or more of the following elements:

  • A weak, male character
  • A femme fatale — she manipulates the weak male
  • A private eye — who may be either weak or strong
  • A determined, good woman — usually, she is trying to rescue the weak male.  (These weak, male characters are a a lot of trouble.)
  • Corrupt authorities — including the police
  • An innocent man or woman convicted of a crime — see weak, male character
  • Characters doomed by fate or their pasts
  • Greed and opportunities to make huge scores
  •  Caper film — from Film Noir by Alain Silver, The audience sees a crime from the criminals POV. And during or after the execution of the crime, Something Goes Wrong.
  • Couple on the Run — from Film Noir. The couple can be innocent, fleeing from a trumped up charge, or guilty and trying to escape the police.

The setting for most of these is the gritty, corrupt city. A few movies from this time period can be labeled country noir — On Dangerous Ground, They Drive By Nightand one of my favorites Inferno.

What draws me to country noir  is the combination of noir elements in a rural setting. The country landscape gives noir themes a fresh twist.

If you are interested in learning more about film noir from the classic period, check out Noir Alley on TCM ( Turner Classic Movies). In September, the series will begin again on Saturdays at midnight and Sundays at 10 a.m. The introductions by the hose Eddie Mueller, the Czar of Noir, have taught me so much about this style.

Another aspect of country noir I like is that it limits technology. Next time, I will write about the problems I’ve encountered with technology dissolving tension.

Have you read or watched anything that can be called “country noir”?

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